Behold, the Sideways Elevator

Thomas Lohnes // Getty Images
Thomas Lohnes // Getty Images

Elevator company ThyssenKrupp has developed a "sideways elevator" known as MULTI. In many respects it's similar to a standard elevator—it's a car that's designed to move people between floors in buildings. But this elevator has two key engineering differences. First, it uses motors on tracks to move the cars, rather than a cable pulling the cars up and down. Second, the tracks themselves can rotate or be built in orientations that aren't just up and down. That last bit is what makes this so interesting.

In a conventional elevator setup, architects devote a columnar portion of the building to elevator shafts. Those are then outfitted with cabling and motors to move the elevator cars up and down between floors. There's plenty of fancy math engineers build in to optimize the availability and speed of those elevators. But typically, the biggest limitation is that for each elevator shaft, there is just one elevator car. (There are multi-car-per-shaft elevators known as "twin elevators," but the cars generally block one another in the shaft.)

MULTI allows multiple cars per shaft, with the ability to scoot cars sideways as needed, or even to build a zig-zagging shaft structure. This allows cars to get out of the way of each other, enabling all kinds of interesting algorithmic changes. The system could put multiple cars near high-traffic areas—and those areas might change based on time of day or other factors. Priority cars might be able to zip along, while others moved to the side to wait. A car might move sideways and enter another shaft, if that would create a faster path. Or imagine a dual-tower building—it could have a sideways elevator shaft (or many of them) to connect the towers. Imagine the time savings in traveling between upper floors of the two buildings, when such a linkage exists! As a broad concept, MULTI basically removes the idea of the elevator "shaft" and replaces it with something more like lanes on a road—and adds the ability to move along two axes rather than just one.

In the video below, Tom Scott visits a ThyssenKrupp testing tower to learn how it works. (He also makes it clear this is not sponsored content—it's a genuinely fascinating bit of engineering. It does seem the company is doing its public relations homework, though, as the first functional unit went online on June 22, 2017 in Rottweil, Germany.)

Behold:

If video isn't your thing, read up on the technology. While it will be many years before this kind of technology becomes commonplace, you may be able to tell your kids: "In my day, elevators only went up and down!"

Charge Your Gadgets Anywhere With This Pocket-Sized Folding Solar Panel

Solar Cru, YouTube
Solar Cru, YouTube

Portable power banks are great for charging your phone when you’re out and about all day, but even they need to be charged via an electrical outlet. There's only so much a power bank can do when you’re out hiking the Appalachian Trail or roughing it in the woods during a camping trip.

Enter the SolarCru—a lightweight, foldable solar panel now available on Kickstarter. It charges your phone and other electronic devices just by soaking up the sunshine. Strap it to your backpack or drape it over your tent to let the solar panel’s external battery charge during the day. Then, right before you go to bed, you can plug your electronic device into the panel's USB port to let it charge overnight.

It's capable of charging a tablet, GPS, speaker, headphones, camera, or other small wattage devices. “A built-in intelligent chip identifies each device plugged in and automatically adjusts the energy output to provide the right amount of power,” according to the SolarCru Kickstarter page.

A single panel is good “for small charging tasks,” according to the product page, but you can connect up to three panels together to nearly triple the electrical output. It takes roughly three hours and 45 minutes to charge a phone using a single panel, for instance, or about one hour if you’re using three panels at once. The amount of daylight time it takes to harvest enough energy for charging will depend on weather conditions, but it will still work on cloudy days, albeit more slowly.

The foldable panel weighs less than a pound and rolls up into a compact case that it can easily be tucked away in your backpack or jacket pocket. It’s also made from a scratch- and water-resistant material, so if you get rained out while camping, it won't destroy your only source of power.

You can pre-order a single SolarCru panel on Kickstarter for $34 (less than some power banks), or a pack of five for $145. Orders are scheduled to be delivered in March.

Watch Ford's Sweaty-Butt Robot Put a Car Seat to the Test

iStock.com/gargantiopa
iStock.com/gargantiopa

Buyers tend to look at price, safety, and gas mileage when shopping for a car; a question that rarely comes up at the dealership is how well a car seat stands up to years of butt sweat. But even if it isn't a priority for car owners, the vehicle testers at Ford work to ensure the cars that leave the factory can accommodate the sweatiest passengers.

The secret to Ford's durable seats is a device called the Robutt. This video from the car company shows a Kuka robotic arm pushing a buttocks-shaped cushion into a car seat. To replicate a person sitting in the car after exercising, the dummy butt is heated to approximately human body temperate and pumped with half a liter of water. The average person produces about 0.7 to 1.5 liters of sweat in one hour of intense exercise, and people who are especially fit perspire 1.5 to 1.8 liters in the same time.

The sit test is repeated 7500 times over three days—simulating one decade of someone driving their sweaty behind home from the gym. If the surface of a car seat can make it through all that abuse without any wear and tear, the design is good enough for a Ford vehicle. Robutt-approved seats were first introduced in the 2018 Ford Fiesta and are now being built into all Ford vehicles in Europe.

You can watch the messy process play out below. Here are some more robots that, like the Robutt, were designed for oddly specific tasks.

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